Brazil judge orders Vale, BHP and Samarco to pay $9.7 billion in damages

Reconstruction efforts at Samarco’s Fundão tailings dam in 2017. (Image courtesy of BHP)

A Brazilian judge has sentenced Vale (NYSE: VALE) and BHP (ASX: BHP) and their joint venture Samarco to pay 47.6 billion reais ($9.67 billion) in damage repairs over a burst tailings dam in 2015, according to a legal decision on Thursday seen by Reuters.

The Samarco Fundão dam burst occurred in November 2015, releasing 39.2 million cubic meters of tailings waste into the Rio Doce Basin. It was Brazil’s worst environmental disaster ever, resulting in the death of 19 people.

In 2015, the year of the tragedy, Samarco produced 25 million tonnes of iron ore. The joint venture was eventually shuttered for five years. During that time, BHP and Vale focused on reparations, compensations and clean-up efforts.

The companies also faced several lawsuits and site inspections until they were ready to safely reopen Mariana Complex in December 2020.

Brazilian prosecutors said that year that the Renova Foundation created by the miners for the reparation of the damages did not deliver on any of its promises.

Samarco said in 2020 that it had developed a new security system, which includes a monitoring and inspection center.